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Pac-12’s finish might make up for its sub-standard play


Mike Miller

Pac-12 basketball can be ugly, but the final three weeks should provide plenty of thrills. Washington’s win Sunday against Oregon State ensured as much.

The Huskies (17-8, 10-3 in Pac-12) are tied with Cal (20-6, 10-3) atop the league. Arizona (18-8, 9-4), Colorado (17-8, 9-4) and Oregon (18-7, 9-4) are all a game behind. That’s the kind of bunching that makes a team uneasy. Even if you’re on top.

“It feels like if we lose, we’re eliminated (from the Pac-12 race),” guard Terrence Ross told the Seattle Times.

He might be right.

Among those five teams, Cal has the best chance to win the regular-season title, but the Bears are far from a lock. Here’s how it all might shake out:

Cal’s remaining games: Thursday vs. Oregon; Saturday vs. Oregon State; Feb. 23 at Utah; Feb. 26 at Colorado; March 4 at Stanford.

Only Utah’s a gimme win, though the two home games this week are close. Unless the Bears have a two-game lead entering the final two games, they might lose this thing.

“We’ve got our program where at least people know who we are,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery told the Mercury News. “We’re competing favorably, and that’s really all you can ask -- to have a chance.”

Washington’s remaining games: Thursday vs. Arizona State; Saturday vs. Arizona; Feb. 25 at Washington State; March 1 at USC, March 3 at UCLA.

If it doesn’t look that imposing, look again. The Huskies’ only “easy” game among those is ASU. Arizona’s won four straight, Wazzu is a rivalry game and ending the schedule with a trip to the L.A. schools with a title on the line isn’t really UW’s ideal situation. But they’ll take it.

“We’re tied for first place and going back home for two more games,” Romar told the Times. “In the big picture, I’d prefer that than the alternative.”

Arizona’s remaining games: Thursday at Washington State; Saturday at Washington; Feb. 23 vs. USC; Feb. 25 vs. USC; March 4 at Arizona State.

If the Wildcats can steal one in Seattle, they could very well run the table to close the season and push Cal for the title. That didn’t seem likely when they were 5-4 in late January, or when sixth-man Kevin Parrom – one of their few big guys – went out for the season. But now? Arizona’s in good shape.

“My mind is already on next week,” guard Kyle Fogg told the Arizona Daily Star after beating Utah. “If we go out, have a good three days of practice then we should be able to go out and get a good game at Washington State on Thursday and then get ready for Washington on Saturday.”

Colorado’s remaining games: Saturday at Utah; Feb. 23 vs. Stanford; Feb. 26 vs. Cal; March 1 at Oregon; March 3 at Oregon State.

The league’s surprise team may be longshot in all this. Just two remaining home games takes away the Buffs’ biggest advantage this season – they’ve beaten UW, Arizona and Oregon at home – and ending at the Oregon schools isn’t an easy chore. But that’s exactly what coach Tad Boyle will use to motivate his team.

“We’re in this race and we want to prove we belong in this race,” Boyle told the Boulder Daily Camera. “What we have to do is win on the road, and this is another step in that process.”

Oregon’s remaining games: Thursday at Cal; Sunday at Stanford; Feb. 26 at Oregon State; March 1 vs. Colorado; March 3 vs. Utah.

The other longshot’s on the road for the next three, in which they’ll almost certainly be underdogs. The Ducks can win tough road games (See: Arizona) and their 25-point win against Washington last week shows they might very well be peaking.

“It’s fun to be Feb. 11 and still be in the hunt, and still have the guys talking about the next game being really important,” Oregon coach Dana Altman told the Portland Oregonian. “We had to get Washington or we were going to be way behind them (in the standings) and our guys found a way to do that. It’ll be the same with Cal — we have to find a way.

“We know we’ve got a long ways to go yet to be the team we want to be in March.”

My money’s on Cal, but in this league, who knows? The next few weeks should have plenty of drama sandwiched into the span of a few days. Turns out the Pac-12 is good for something this season.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.